Insurrection

 

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Miss Parker's office

She sat in the large gray chenille-covered chair at the head of the long, low table where she had her conferences every morning. Sitting to her left were Cox and Lyle. Sitting to her right were Eve and the Chairman. She had already met with her own Emergency Response team, heard their reports, and prepared one of her own. Now it was time to lower the boom and put the responsibility for this fiasco directly where it ought to be. She might not have been included in the initial meeting right after the escape, but all attention was now focused on her.

“It won’t come as any surprise to announce that Jarod got out through the air ducts -- again,” she began.

“That was always a point of weakness in this system,” the Chairman pointed out gruffly. “We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

She shot him a glance, furious that he would even comment, but held her tongue for the moment. Instead, she turned her cool gaze on Eve. “I find it very strange that he would want to leave in the first place. Don’t you agree, Eve? I mean, Aurora was supposed to keep him here forever. How could it be that he just left, if it’s such a powerful incentive for him to stay?”

The older woman’s mouth pressed into a firm line. Her eyes narrowed. “I can’t explain it. The results on all other test subjects have been one hundred percent successful. There was no reason to imagine escape was possible, that he would ever consider it.”

“And why was it that the lab where Jarod was working had no video monitors turned on? Isn’t it standard protocol for Jarod to be under security observation 24-7?”

Eve glanced at the Chairman for support. “We thought it unnecessary, considering the hold Aurora had on him. He had an escort whenever he moved from his quarters to the lab, but surveillance was deemed redundant.”

“Obviously,” Miss Parker hissed, “someone was mistaken.” She glanced at her watch. “And it’s even more interesting that Jarod hasn’t come crawling back, hours after his last dose must have worn off. I wonder how he managed without it?” She sat for a moment, then opened her mouth with a gasp of mock surprise. “Maybe it’s because there are two vials of Aurora missing from the supply lab. Now, who do you suppose would have any interest in those?”

Eve’s gaze dropped to the floor.

Parker straightened in her chair. “Jarod couldn’t have gotten to those vials from where he was in the short amount of time he had to escape. That leaves only one conclusion -- he had help.”

Uncomfortable glances were exchanged all around the table, meeting every eye but hers.

She stood up, arms crossed over her chest, and began to pace around the open space in the middle of the room. “As director of SIS, I should have access to any and all information that might pose a security risk to this place and its concerns.” She drummed her fingers on her arm. “Yet I am continually in the dark about far too many projects that have bearing on my work.” She turned and fixed the Chairman with a stony gaze, determined not to let him get the upper hand -- not this time, and not in front of this group. "I had my people look through project files. Guess what they came up with?”

“It doesn’t matter who helped him, Sis,” Lyle interjected impatiently. “What matters is that he’s gone. What are you going to do about it?”

Turning her gaze to Lyle, she ignored his outburst and asked him, "Why was it that I was never told about Project Looking Glass? This woman's ability to 'mirror' emotion is the only impetus I can find that might have persuaded Jarod to leave the source of his addiction. He'd have fought for his life, risked dying to stay here, unless someone offered him an even more powerful incentive to leave."

Lyle was silent.

"Why would Looking Glass care about Jarod so much to want to rescue him, Lyle? Who is she? What’s their connection?"

Lyle's mouth opened and closed reflexively. He shot a desperate glance at his father, and Miss Parker followed his eyes there. The old man's face pinkened, then flushed deeper.

"That was one of those projects you didn't need to know about, angel. I--"

"As head of SIS, I need to know about everything," she corrected vehemently. "Who is Looking Glass, and what does she want with Jarod?"

The Chairman wilted. He slumped back against the sofa and stared in defeat at the coffee table in front of him. "She's someone who's known Jarod since childhood. She called herself his friend."

Lyle took the sign of capitulation for what it was and volunteered the rest. "Looking Glass's real name is Faith. Remember our adopted little sister? The one who's supposed to be dead?" Smiling smugly, he crossed his arms over his chest.

Pretending shock, she turned back to the Chairman. "Is this true, Daddy? Why would you lie about something like that, especially to me?"

"None of that matters now," he grumbled. "What matters is that Jarod's gone, and we've got to get him back." He made eye contact then. "So what are you doing to meet that end?"

She paused, pretending to consider this latest information. Then she resumed her seat, leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and fixed him with a steely gaze. "If I had known the Centre had produced someone with abilities like those, someone with an emotional connection to Jarod, I could have planned for it. I'm tired of not having all the facts. I can't do my job without them, yet you continue to leave me in the dark. And I did offer you revised security measures in my audit over a month ago, measures that would have prevented this from happening. Did you even bother to read it?" She reached toward the table and nudged a copy toward him. "I just found out this morning that you rescinded those changes as being too extravagant. Apparently, your faith in Aurora made you think such measures were obsolete."

His face flushed crimson.

"I'll give you my terms for getting Jarod back, Daddy," she added smoothly. "I'll go back to hunting for your prize, but I'm also keeping the SIS job. I want Sydney back on my team, and there will be no more secrets that might affect security at the Centre, or at Triumvirate Station. This is my show now. I get access to every project, current and past. I get what I want, and you get Jarod and Faith back.” She straightened, gave each of them a penetrating gaze, and waved her hand in dismissal. “You all decide how you want to play this game. I can come through for you, just like I did before. But this time, I’m in charge of the hunt.”

The others shared nervous glances, but made no motions to assent or object. She rose, strode to her desk, and retrieved a handful of copies of another report, including a cover letter addressed to each of the Triumvirate members in each of the stations. She handed copies to Mr. Parker and Eve.

"You'll find details of the investigation in this report," she told them. "I haven't sent it yet, because I wanted you both to look over it for accuracy. I have all my facts corroborated, memos copied and a complete log of all the factors contributing to this incident. If my request is denied, this report will be my last act as director of SIS. I want it known among all the Triumvirate members exactly who is responsible for this loss."

She eyed Eve and the Chairman meaningfully.

"I don't think that will be necessary, Miss Parker," Eve returned graciously, setting her copy down on the table.

Lyle reached for it, but the Chairman slapped his hand down on it and pulled it into his own lap first with a frown of disapproval.

"You'd better dazzle me," the old man growled. "I'll expect weeks, instead of years, this time around."

He nodded and waved a hand at the others, and they all rose and departed swiftly, but he did not move from his seat on the couch. “Are you sure you don’t have a problem going after Faith?"

Miss Parker sighed and smoothed her hair wearily back from her face. “The woman I read about in these reports is a danger to society. This is the safest place for her. Of course I’ll bring her back. It‘s my job, regardless of who she is.” She shook her head, and pasted on a hurt, little-girl look. “Why, Daddy? Why didn’t you tell me the truth about her?”

“Those treatments we were giving her…” he began, and expelled a heavy breath. “We were trying to help her, as I told you long ago, but it wasn't leukemia. We wanted to help her learn to control this ability, to dampen it so she could function as a normal human being. You couldn’t have understood what we were doing, and when we saw that it didn’t work, we felt it best to keep her in a place where she couldn’t do any harm. Can you ever forgive me, angel? I never meant to hurt either of you. I just didn’t have a choice. I’m sorry.”

The audacity of his lies almost made her ill. She stepped into his arms and rested her head on his shoulder as she always had, so he wouldn’t notice how revolted she really was. It made her stomach roil to be so close to him, and to know at long last what he was, how he had manipulated her. She could see him clearly now, but he couldn’t know that she did.

Not yet.

He pulled back and looked down at her. "Something happened between you and Jarod, didn't it? Brought things to a head somehow. Your attitude has been different ever since you brought him back."

Yes, something happened. I learned that Jarod isn't the monster you told me he was. I learned that Gabriel is my son, created as part of a Centre project. I learned that you're not really my father, a fact I suspect you've known all along. "I'd rather not discuss it," she told him coolly. "But you're right, it did have a profound effect on me."

"Doesn't matter, I suppose. For the first time in a very long while, you're acting like a Parker. That's what counts." His attitude had changed completely, his face almost beaming with pride.

And I learned that you forbade the use of my first name in order to blunt my inner sense, because you were afraid I'd see you for the charlatan you are. "My name is my strength, Daddy. It's taken a long time for me to learn that lesson, but I know it now."

"You betcha." He patted her on the shoulder.

She knew he would assume it was the Parker name that she meant. Let him. It would buy her time, and give her the opportunity to retain her hold on SIS.

He favored her with a smile, kissed her on the forehead, and left.

He didn't have a clue of the things to come. And that was just the way she liked it.

* * * * * * * * *

Icy Kold warehouse

Faith’s eyes were closed. She sat beside the bed, out of the way of Charles and Jordan, holding Jarod’s hand. It was almost over; at least, the detoxification portion was nearly done. The rest of it would take a lifetime, but she was ready to help with that.

Her head came up. In that unfocused state, as her mind drifted, she had sensed something -- a faint echo of emotional resonance that identified people to her as easily as recognizing a voice in the distance. She rose from her chair, skirted behind the bed and angled toward the door with the Major and the boy watching her. A slight flare of alarm showed in both their eyes.

“It’s nothing,” she lied. “I’ll be back in a minute. Jarod’s fine, I promise.”

The two turned their attention back to the careful monitoring of their precious patient, trusting her words. She went down the stairs and stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine, squinting to get her bearings.

“Not here,” she whispered to herself, remembering the albino man she had glimpsed on her trail. “Not now, of all times. Where are you?”

She couldn’t see him, but his presence was a steady blip on her internal radar. To the left, it said. She turned that way and began to walk, gazing at the sidewalk and trying to shut out the emotional chaos around her. The warehouse lay at the end of the street in an old industrial district, slowly being reformed into a commons with a variety of shops and businesses. People were scattered here and there, a tempting distraction, but one presence was more urgent than the others and drew her full attention.

Faith had felt him before, easing close, then backing away. He seemed curious, above everything else. That was how she recognized him, by his unquenchable thirst to know.

An echo of startled pleasure reached her. He was surprised, and rather pleased, that she had come hunting him for a change. He was stepping away from a newsstand, tucking the photo of her that he had just shown to the vendor back into his jacket pocket.

“What do you want with me?” she demanded as she approached.

He smiled softly. “Oh, my. You are as good as I was told.” With a soft chuckle, he added, “I have no designs on you whatsoever. I’m simply a finder of the lost.” He gestured her down the sidewalk, and they fell in step together, keeping plenty of space between them so that they didn’t appear too companionable.

“I'm not lost.”

“I believe the owners of the Southern Tier Restaurant -- not to mention your handlers at the Centre -- would beg to differ.”

Faith looked at him sharply. “I left when it was time, in both cases,” she answered quietly.

He chose to ignore the remark. “Having your abilities would be a boon to my profession,” he mused idly. “It would be much easier to find people that way, don't you agree?” Glancing at her face, he clasped his hands behind himself. “You’re as curious about people as I am. I like that about you. But you don’t let many of them get close. You don't trust them, even though your empathic sense functions as a very reliable truth detector." He smiled again. "What I don't understand is why my employer is so insistent on sanction rather than restoration, where you’re concerned. I see no reason why you couldn't still be a productive member of their team.”

Faith crossed her arms over her chest, unnerved that he had been so painfully correct in his observations. He was proud of his accuracy, of his skill. She could feel the pride radiating from him. He was good at hunting people, and it excited him, but there was more to his fascination with her. He wanted to know what made her tick.

“You’re not taking me back,” she told him firmly. “You can’t make me go with you.” She wanted him to leave her alone, but a tickle in the back of her mind told her he never would, as long as Lyle was calling his shots.

“My employer said I should be careful with you,” said the man. His voice was slightly raspy, but his manner of speech refined and dignified. His pale skin and hair made him stand out from the rest of the people on the sidewalk like a beacon. And at that moment, excitement and anticipation poured off him like a fountain, drenching her in the spray. “You do look delicate. But I know you’re not.”

There was nothing lustful in his comment, which gave her a slight bit of relief. What he wanted was more intrinsic than sexual gratification. Just go away, she repeated to herself, the unspoken words echoing in her head. In the distance, she could feel Jarod rousing, coming up from the depths of his drug-induced sleep. She needed to get back to him, to be there when he awakened.

This hunter, however, was relaxed, in no hurry to go anywhere.

Relaxed, at least on the surface. Knowing it was the only weapon she had, she began to concentrate on what else she could find inside him besides pride and curiosity. In the very depths of his soul, she felt fear, like a whisper in the maelstrom of emotion that surrounded her on the sidewalk, brushing up against her consciousness feather-lightly, barely there. But once she felt it, once she connected with it, she expanded it with all her strength and sent it back to him full force.

“Go away!” she hissed aloud.

His eyes widened, and he staggered back as if he had been struck. She turned around and kept walking, her mind focused on that glimmer of fear, magnifying it until it was overwhelming. Head down, she trudged along the sidewalk, back the way she had come, certain that he would not dare to follow.

The screech of metal and rubber tires whipped her head around in time to see the albino running straight into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler. The impact hurled him through the air in a graceful arc, and through a plate glass window fronting a coffee shop across the intersection.

Forty feet away from his mangled body, she knew already that he was dead.

She couldn’t move, standing on the sidewalk and staring as several people gathered around him. They would tell the police that he had been talking to a woman. They would want to question her, to know what she had said that propelled him toward his doom.

Only Faith knew that it wasn’t what she said to him. It wasn’t a suicide, as others might suspect. She hadn’t meant to kill him; she had only wanted him to leave her alone. But she had also known the albino would probably dog her trail forever, unless she stopped him for good.

She had been functioning as a psychic mirror for a long time. Somewhere deep inside she had understood, as she always did, the possible consequences of her actions. And somewhere inside, she had chosen this man's death as an acceptable outcome.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's office

Broots shuffled in and took a seat, glancing at Sydney who was already there and waiting. They had both been summoned, apparently so Miss Parker could make some type of announcement.

“Good news, boys,” she told them. “We’re back on the hunt for Jarod.”

The tech saw the absence of surprise on the Belgian’s face and turned his gaze back to his boss. “Does that mean you’ve been demoted?” he inquired tentatively.

She smiled, teeth flashing to compliment the predatory gleam in her eyes. “There’s no way I’d give up this post to be a hound dog again, Broots. And if I get my way, we’ll have our fingers in all of the pies very shortly. That should make it easier to have the information we need, when we need it."

"Are you that anxious to have Jarod locked up again, Miss Parker?" Sydney asked slowly.

She watched him for several moments, then blinked. "I said we would look for him, Sydney," she replied mildly. "I didn't say what we would do if we found him."

Broots chuckled with relief. After a pause, Sydney did the same.

The tech nudged him. “What do you think? Is it good to be back?”

“Yes. Yes, Broots, it is.”

Parker winked at them, and shooed them out the door with new assignments, pleased that things were finally starting to move according to plan.

* * * * * * * * *

Icy Kold warehouse

She hurried back to the warehouse where Jarod was just starting to move toward consciousness. He looked so peaceful, so innocent, much like the boy who had supervised his detoxification. Innocence, she knew, wasn't a word that could be applied to her. This wasn’t the first time she had taken a life.

At last, she understood. This was the lesson she needed to learn. She didn’t belong among people. None of them were safe with her, not even those few she cared about.

With a sigh, she squeezed back behind the bed and took Jarod’s hand. “How are we doing?” she asked Jordan.

“Good. He should be coming around in a minute or two.”

Jarod’s eyes began to move beneath closed lids. He moaned, his head rolling from side to side on the pillow. And he whimpered, unable to find his way back in the dark.

She closed her eyes, expanding the range of her awareness until hers bled into his. Gently, she brought him back with her, comforting him, sharing the devastating emptiness that Aurora had left in its wake.

“You can handle this,” she whispered. “You’re stronger than the evil that wants to own you.”

He opened his eyes.

The major let go an explosive sigh, as if he had been holding his breath for hours. “Thank God, you’re all right, son,” he choked. “I was afraid this wasn’t going to work.”

Jarod reached up toward his head for the young man who had been his safety net. “Oh, ye of little faith,” the pretender croaked. He grasped Jordan’s hand weakly. “Need water.”

Faith grabbed a cup of ice chips and slipped a few into his mouth. “I don't mean to rush you, but we need to leave here as soon as Jarod is able to move.”

“The Centre?” asked Jordan, already starting to shut down the monitoring equipment. He changed the intravenous fluids, hung a fresh bag of lactated ringer’s solution to help Jarod stay hydrated, and helped his older counterpart to sit up.

“Yes, the Centre,” Faith whispered, recalling the image of the albino’s broken body in the shattered remains of the window.

“That’s where you went, isn’t it?” asked Charles. “To buy us some time.”

She nodded. “Time’s up. We need to be gone before the police get here. Jarod, can you make it into a wheelchair?”

“I can walk,” he assured her, but crumbled into the chair his father brought to the bedside.

Jordan moved the IV bag to the pole on the chair while the major ran to get the van started. Faith stayed at the door as they went out. Jarod turned, reaching weakly toward her.

"Faith… earlier, I said some things…" He struggled to fight off the effects of the anesthesia. "I'm sorry."

“It’s all right, Jarod. I understood, better than you know.” She took his hand as they rushed across the warehouse toward the van, but stopped on the dock and did not follow them down.

“Come on, Faith.” Jordan glanced at her over his shoulder as he and the major lifted the chair down off the steps to the ground below.

She shook her head. Her throat felt raw and tight, and her chest hurt. She had never felt that way before, and wondered if she was ill. “I can’t,” she told him. “They’ll be looking for me. I’ll leave a few minutes after you. Go. You’ve got to get out of here.”

Jarod's expression changed, taking on a forlorn look as he realized she wasn't coming with them. A part of her desperately wanted to, but she kept a lid on it as he was loaded into the van and the doors closed, cutting him off from view.

She nodded and waved them away, watching till the van was gone in traffic.

It was time to disappear once again. Faith knew she was too strong to simply lie down and die, but for the first time she began to wonder if in the long run it might be better for everyone -- especially Jarod -- if she could.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's office

She glanced up from her perusal of the report on the Seraphim to her laptop, chiming that new mail had arrived, and took note of the sender: bunny@havefaith.com.

Our mutual friend will recover.

She sighed with relief. Obviously, it wouldn't be easy for Jarod to overcome a dependency of this magnitude, but he had a start. And he had someone who cared looking after him while he worked at it. She deleted the file, making a mental note to have Broots erase it from the system as soon as possible, and went back to her reading.

* * * * * * * * *

Mr. Lyle's office

An anonymous sweeper delivered the message. It was brief and to the point.

Mr. White was dead. The Centre had sent a cleaner to deal with the situation before anyone could figure out who he was and, more importantly, to whom he was connected. According to at least one eyewitness, the man had run blindly into traffic, and been mowed down by a truck. He seemed in a hurry, almost as if he were trying to get away from something.

Or someone. Lyle had no doubt that Faith was responsible. He had warned White about getting too close unless he meant business, and with good reason. She was more dangerous than anyone else in the Centre realized -- and unless he did something about it, White might not be her last victim.

He picked up the phone, intending to summon Valentine. Once on the case, he knew his tenacious sweeper wouldn't stop until he found Faith, and introduced her to his own particular brand of entertainment. Mr. White had been willing to kill, for a price. Valentine would do it simply because he was intrigued.

The thought of Little Miss Looking Glass in a dozen pieces comforted Lyle, and he smiled.

It was time to unleash the dogs.

End of Episode
Insurrection

 
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